By Jim Schrenkel, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
Duck hunting is an exciting activity enjoyed by many. The challenge of effectively calling waterfowl into a decoy spread is very rewarding. However, if this is the only waterfowl hunting you have participated in, you may be missing out. Hunting waterfowl, especially wood ducks, from a canoe is particularly challenging. If you think that all you have to do is float down a creek and shoot a limit of “woodies,” you have never tried this type of hunting. Just paddling a canoe can be difficult at times. Throw in guns, waders, decoys, maybe a dog and other paraphernalia, then you have the making of an interesting hunt.
With duck hunting boats getting larger and the drive for quantity over quality, many small creeks and duck holes often are overlooked. A canoe is an effective way to access these areas. Canoes are very quiet and maneuverable. They may be paddled tandem or solo. The light weight also makes it easy for transport and hauling over or around deadfalls (and believe me, they will be encountered).
Two basic options are available for hunting with canoes. The first is to use the canoe to access remote beaver ponds, backwaters and sloughs. Canoes can operate in shallow water, even with a somewhat heavy load including, hunters, dog, decoys and other gear. Allow plenty of time to reach your spot so you do not overexert yourself and start sweating, as this could make for a long morning. The canoe can easily be stashed or pulled next to shore and used for a blind.
The second option, and my favorite, is to float a creek and try to sneak within shooting distance of the ducks. This requires more skill and finesse. A canoe is not the most stable water craft built, so setting up for the shot can be quite challenging. Often there is very little notice of a potential shooting opportunity because the next woodie may be just around the bend. Hunting with a partner usually requires that the back person paddles and maneuvers the canoe so person in front can concentrate on looking for wood ducks. Sometimes deciding who sits in the front of the canoe first may be the most challenging aspect of the hunt.
As you can imagine, hunting solo is the ultimate challenge. You must paddle, maneuver and be ready to shoot at the drop of a hat. This experience can be the most rewarding of all. Matching your skills against the creek, Mother Nature and wildlife can easily turn the tables to the advantage of the ducks. So any success is greatly earned.
Several tips may increase your success. Easing along the inside of a bend in the creek can sometimes offer better and closer shooting opportunities. Listening for the call of the woodie can let you know they are in the area. Many times you can hear them splashing in the water while feeding or landing. Sometimes you may be able to notice small ripples in the water next to shore to give away their position. Being able to observe little signs can be the difference in seeing tail feathers or meat on the table.
As with any form of hunting, safety is of utmost importance. Always wear approved floatation devices. Know the canoe’s limitations as well as your own. Be familiar with the operation of the canoe; practice makes perfect. Unload your firearm when crossing deadfalls in the creek and while entering or exiting the canoe. Always think safety, safety, safety.
Hunting woodies from a canoe can be extremely challenging. Many exciting and rewarding hunting opportunities are ready to be discovered on the miles of creeks and abundant backwaters found throughout Alabama. Remember, the journey is often as enjoyable as the destination.